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REAL ESTATE

10 Things Your Pool Man (or Woman!) Wishes You Knew

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Man cleaning the swimming pool with vacuum cleaner (l2egulas)

Considering diving into the wild and wet world of pool ownership? Congrats! But here's the reality: You can't just stock up on sunscreen and pool noodles and call it a day.

That's right -- in order to enjoy your outdoor oasis, you'll need to get involved. Whether you're buying a home with an existing pool or installing your own, there's a lot to learn about keeping your watery refuge safe, up to code, and well-maintained.

Luckily for you, your pool contractor is there to help with the big things and the tiny details alike. But first, you need to do some homework. Before jumping into the deep end, here are 10 things your pool contractor wishes you knew about your hot-weather haven.

1. Avoid old pools

If you're looking to buy a home with an existing in-ground pool, start by asking when that watering hole was built -- and if the answer is "before 1980," reconsider.

"The construction standards of the pools before this time were questionable, and if that pool needs work, replacement parts are hard to find," says Brad Spaidal, a pool contractor and owner of Rideau Pools in Ottawa.

If you're determined to buy the house, make sure to get a thorough inspection from a contractor familiar with older pools. Just don't be surprised if the inspection turns up a wallet's worth of problems.

"Most of these pools need a little -- or, in some cases, a lot -- of work to bring them up to operational standards," Spaidal says.

2. Your fencing might not be up to snuff…

Your local municipality will have strict regulations for backyard pools, so before installing your own (or purchasing an existing pool), make sure your outdoor space is legally suitable.

This might include building a new fence (the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends fencing be at least 4 feet high) or installing self-closing, self-latching gates.

"Just because there is a chain-link fence buried inside a 6-foot-wide hedge on the property does not mean that it is up to code," Spaidal says. (In fact, if you purchase a home with hedging, you may be forced to remove it so contractors can replace or repair the fencing.)

3. … and your yard might not be, either

Even if your yard is code-compliant, your space still may not be pool-worthy.

Contractors need at least 7 feet of "clear access to the backyard" in order to bring in the necessary excavation equipment, Spaidal says. Using smaller machines may be possible, but it will probably increase your costs. Maybe by a lot.

If your property backs up to a drainage ditch, a pool may not be an option -- especially if there's an easement. A drastic change in elevation in your backyard (think: cascading soil as torrential rain falls) can be another major problem, which requires constructing an expensive retaining wall to build the pool.

4. Maintenance sucks, but your health and safety depend on it

If your epically annoying neighbors can manage to maintain their pool, anyone can -- including you. But there's still a lot to learn. No, it's not fun. But it's not exactly quantum physics, either. You can do this.

"One of the biggest surprises of pool ownership is usually all the maintenance required to keep the water pristine," Spaidal says. "The regular addition of chlorine and the balancing required takes a lot of time."

So work with your pool pro to determine the correct settings for your salt chlorinator, and make sure to test the chlorine and pH levels regularly to fine-tune your settings.

Note: The main goal here isn't just about achieving that crystal-blue shade of water. If you do this wrong and the pH is too low, you run the risk of irritating your skin and eyes as well as other health hazards. If the pH is too high, it can stop chlorine and other disinfectants from working. And that's just gross, not to mention dangerous.

And while keeping swimmers healthy is your main priority, there are other things that are at risk in a badly maintained pool: All the delicate, expensive equipment will suffer if the chlorine and pH levels aren't kept in check, possibly cutting your pool's life span by a quarter -- or more.

Most homeowners spend $84 to $278 a week on pool maintenance -- and that's not just the cost of doing wizardry with your chemicals. You also have to factor in the work (and equipment costs) of vacuuming, cleaning filters, brushing the pool walls, and winterizing the pool (if you live in a cold climate.)

5. You have to mix your chemicals

Sure, it's easier to simply dump the chemicals into the pool en masse and call it a summer day (or night!) -- but Spaidal says doing so is "the biggest maintenance mistake that [he's] seen."

Chemicals are heavier than water, so without mixing, they'll settle uselessly at the bottom of the pool. Not only does that make your maintenance less effective, but it can bleach or damage your liner.

Spaidal recommends adding chemicals near your pool's return jet and turning the pump on high speed to properly mix the pool water. Or if your pump is off, you can thoroughly mix the water using your pole and brush.

6. Consider saltwater

Does all of that maintenance sound like a major drag? Well, there's another option. Saltwater pools are undergoing a renaissance -- and not just for cruise ships.

"Most people find that having a saltwater pool reduces the work of owning a pool by around 90%," Spaidal says. "The water also feels much better and there are less red eyes compared to a chlorine-only pool."

If you're worried about your new pool feeling … well, salty, don't. Expect it to have roughly one-tenth the salt content of the ocean.

And the benefits go beyond ease of maintenance: Experts suggest that owners of saltwater pools can save between $300 and $400 per year on chlorine.

7. Pools are an energy suck

Your pool can increase your home's energy output by a whopping 49%. Panicking about that electric bill? Buy a variable speed pump to lessen the blow.

Equipped with a programmable timer, these pumps allow owners to adjust the speed depending on the time of day, letting your pool do the pumping whenever energy rates are lowest.

"These allow the pool owner to save anywhere from 50% to 90% on their previous pumps' electricity usage," Spaidal says.

8. Sunshine can be a bad thing

Sure, it's great for the swimmers in your pool. Not so much for the water.

"In periods of hot, sunny weather, it will be necessary to keep an even closer eye on your chlorine level," Spaidal says.

UV light causes a reaction in chlorine that diminishes its ability to remove bacteria and pathogens. Sunlight -- and the resulting low chlorine levels -- can lead to algae bloom, which turns your water murky and green and is a pain to eliminate. In order to keep your pool safe in the sunshine, Spaidal recommends using a stabilizer additive called cyanuric acid. When it bonds with the chlorine, it helps reduce the negative effects of UV light.

9. Beware of chlorine alternatives

If you're looking to ditch the chlorine, you might consider alternative sanitization methods such as mineral ionizers, UV lights, and ozone generators.

"They're a great addition to the backyard pool owner's arsenal of ways to combat bacteria and keep the water clean and fresh," Spaidal says.

But don't kid yourself: They aren't a replacement for chlorine, still the best way to destroy all the dangerous pathogens that flourish in the water. Many local governments even mandate a minimum amount of chlorine for your pool, no matter what alternatives you're using.

10. You can go to 'pool school'

Anxious owners should check with their local pool shops to see if they have a "pool school" to teach you the basics.

"Usually, within a few weeks of owning their new pool, people have everything dialed in," Spaidal says. "After a short learning curve, (pool owners) are able to relax, sit back in their lounge chair, enjoy their new pool, and create some fun family memories for years to come." We'll take our margarita on the rocks, no salt, please. Enjoy the summer!